The General Synod of the Church of England decided on Monday that women can become bishops. But not tomorrow or next week or even next year. What the synod voted for was a start to the legal processes necessary to enable women to be appointed bishops and, as everyone knows, legal processes have a way of dragging on indefinitely. None the less, the vote authorising this step forward was passed with relative ease unlike the close calls of the Synod vote thirty years ago, which decided that there were no fundamental objections to women's ordination, and thirteen years ago which agreed that women could begin their climb to the higher reaches of the Church. Since that historic first vote was won by the narrowest of margins, some 2'500 women have become priests and nearly half of those training for the ministry are now women. In Monday's Synod vote the bishops were 41-6 in favour, the clergy 167-46 and the laity 159-75. In taking this decision the Synod of the Church of England was following the example of almost fourteen of the 38 Anglican provinces worldwide; women bishops have been elected in Canada, New Zealand and the United States. One of the reasons for this conclusive outcome was that many of the strongest opponents of women bishops left for the Roman Catholic church when women priests were first appointed. Even so, some last ditch opposition remains and its members made an attempt to delay change by calling for further theological study. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury scotched this idea and called for the next Synod to move out of the debating mode. Who will be the CofE's first woman bishop? The favourite is the Very Rev June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury. But she may still have some years to wait.
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